(NOTE: There's an UPDATE to this post on the jump page regarding the current sales tax exemptions that Gov. Jindal wants to keep if his tax plan is passed.)
Gov. Bobby Jindal finally unveiled his tax-swap plan last week — almost. After promising to produce a bill by March 15, he instead gave lawmakers a two-page summary of high-minded but vague talking points, which at least was more than the one-page summary he previously used.
For example, he acknowledged that he wants to raise the state sales tax from 4 percent to 5.88 percent — a hike of 47 percent. That will give most parts of Louisiana the highest combined state and local sales tax rates in the country. (Jindal ignores that aspect of the plan.) At the same time, his handout alluded to eliminating “unnecessary” state sales tax exemptions, but didn’t cite any in particular.
It was more than a tad ironic — metaphoric might be more like it — that the live online video stream of Jindal’s address last Thursday to the joint meeting of the House Ways & Means Committee and the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee had no audio. Not long after he left the witness table, the audio came back on. The next day, the archived version of the video still had no audio for Jindal’s presentation.
Given the governor’s penchant for keeping his most controversial initiatives under tight wraps until the last possible minute, one can’t help wondering if the audio blackout was a technical glitch or a Machiavellian ploy straight out of Richard Nixon’s playbook.
In any event, Jindal won’t be able to play hide-the-ball much longer. That strategy worked fine last year with his education reform package, but things are different this year. For starters, it was relatively easy then to sell the idea that teachers are responsible for Louisiana’s poor educational outcomes. This year, it won’t be so easy to convince people that paying the highest sales taxes in the country will be good for business.
Louisiana House Speaker Chuck Kleckley has called a special election to succeed state Rep. Tony Ligi, R-Metairie, who has prospectively resigned his seat representing House District 79. Ligi will become the executive director and legal counsel for the Jefferson Business Council. He submitted his letter of resignation to the House on Friday, effective January 1.
The primary election will be held on Saturday, March 2, and the runoff, if needed, will be on Saturday, April 6.
Qualifying will begin Wednesday, Jan. 9, and end at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 11.
Sources at federal court confirm that veteran assistant U.S. Attorneys Jan and Jim Mann will "retire" by the end of the day Friday. Both have been under scrutiny — Jan Mann under fire — in connection with the ongoing online commenting scandal that led to the retirement of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. Jan Mann was Letten's first assistant until she was outed as an online commenter at Nola.com. Her husband, Jim Mann, is also a top supervisor in the U.S. Attorney's office.
The Manns' retirements are the latest developments in the online ranting saga that began last March when a lawsuit filed by River Birch co-owner Fred Heebe alleged that Sal Perricone, another veteran assistant U.S. Attorney, was posting acerbic comments at Nola.com under the nom-de-plume HenryLMencken1951 and other aliases. Perricone admitted the allegation and resigned.
In the aftermath of the Perricone debacle, Letten told the press, the public and the courts that Perricone acted alone and that no one else in his office was commenting online. Jan Mann, as his top assistant, was already posting but stopped when Perricone was busted, according to a separate lawsuit against her by Heebe. She not only stood by silently and allowed Letten to make inaccurate pronouncements about the scope of the online commenting problem, but she also oversaw — by virtue of a direct assignment from Letten — what turns out to be a bogus "investigation" of alleged leaks and online comments by Justice Department personnel in the local office. No evidence has surfaced to date that Letten knew about Jan Mann's online comments.
When Jan Mann was outed by Heebe's latest lawsuit as the author of online comments by "eweman," she at first refused to comment, then admitted that she did post comments (but not that she was "eweman) — and then refused to resign, despite pressure from all directions on Letten to let her go. Letten instead demoted her (she has federal civil service protection, so firing her could have been problematic).
Jim Mann is also a close pal of Perricone and is widely suspected of at least knowing about his wife's online activity. The Manns and Perricone constituted a troika of tough-talking federales who seemed to enjoy not only putting crooks in jail but also engaging in a large dose of hubris in the process. Attorneys generally are barred by ethical rules from commenting on pending cases, and federal prosecutors are specifically barred by DOJ regulations from that sort of thing.
The DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility has been charged with investigating the online ranting scandal. A new interim U.S. Attorney has been appointed (Dana Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia), and another federal prosecutor (John Horn from the Northern District of Georgia) has been brought in to re-open Jan Mann's tainted "investigation" into possible leaks from the office.
The Manns' retirements potentially signal the beginning of a long period of "righting the ship" by Boente and his successor.
The late Mayor Dutch Morial once told me, “In this game, it’s not your enemies you have to worry about. It’s your friends — they’ll do you in every time.” I thought of that as I watched U.S. Attorney Jim Letten resign. Letten, like so many others in public life — including, ironically, some that he prosecuted — was brought down by his friends.
Letten had a remarkable prosecutorial run. He put a lot of crooks in jail, and a few more appear on their way there.
His demise came at the hands of two of his most trusted deputies — former First Assistant Jan Mann and former trial supervisor Sal Perricone — who now face potential criminal exposure themselves for their inappropriate and unprofessional online rants. Ironically, Letten always gave his colleagues the credit for his office’s success.
Two of those colleagues paid him back by causing his downfall. Mann and Perricone’s online histrionics, coupled with Mann’s apparent mendacity in her handling of an in-house investigation into leaks and online postings (more irony), became too much for the DOJ to bear. Letten had to go, and he accepted his fate with his hallmark grit.
Now there’s talk that LaBruzzo could be running again for a legislative seat — this time from Baton Rouge — and soon.
LaBruzzo reportedly moved to Baton Rouge earlier this year — coincidentally, into the House district of Rep. Clif Richardson, R-Central, who announced his resignation last week, effective Jan. 2. Richardson has been battling cancer for some time.
Under the cut: More details, and what LaBruzzo says ...
Now it happened that at this time Caesar Piyush issued a decree that vouchers should be made available to every undereducated child in the land. These vouchers — the first — issued while many public schools in Louisiana were failing, and so every prophet with an eye for profit went to enroll as many students as possible, each in his own parish.
They came from all corners of the state, to Baton Rouge, to apply for vouchers, so that their empty classrooms and their dwindling bank accounts might be fattened.
And they were not disappointed, for Piyush showered his faithful with vouchers like manna in the desert. No one knew whence these vouchers came, for they appeared as if in the night, and Piyush refused to answer any man who questioned his purposes or his decisions, and he commanded his voucher procurator, John, likewise to bear no inquiries.
Now at that time there arose in the Ninth Ward a prophet, named Lucas, who called himself The Apostle. He proclaimed that the Lord had spoken to him, telling him, “I bring you news of great joy. Today in the town of Baton Rouge there are thousands of taxpayer-funded vouchers available for you to enroll children in your shabby little school. Go forth and obtain your share, for they will lead you to the land of milk and honey.”
Lucas did as the Lord commanded him, and the Lord made smooth his path to obtain 80 vouchers from Piyush and John, though Lucas had requested more than twice that number. But Lucas saw that it was good. And prophetable.
“I am truly The Apostle,” he proclaimed. “Suffer your little children unto me, and I will make them whold.”
The nastiest political fight in Louisiana this year won’t be the presidential race, or even the pitched battle in the 3rd Congressional District between U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry, two GOP incumbents cast into the same district by reapportionment.
No, the real donnybrook will be the fight to become Louisiana’s next chief justice. Current Chief Justice Kitty Kimball announced her retirement effective Jan. 31, 2013. The Louisiana Constitution decrees that the justice “oldest in point of service” on the Supreme Court shall be chief justice.
That seems clear enough, but this is Louisiana, where even the clear intent of a plainly worded law can be muddied up like a swamp. Hence the ongoing legal and political battle between Justices Bernette Johnson, Jeff Victory and Jeannette Knoll.
Johnson’s supporters say she got there first on Oct. 31, 1994, and therefore she should be the next chief. Supporters of Victory and Knoll, who arrived in 1995 and 1997, respectively, say those justices arrived before Johnson because Johnson technically was elected to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal in 1994 — but was assigned to the Supreme Court under a consent decree that resolved a landmark Voting Rights Act decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The recent debacle over Louisiana’s tax credits for vehicles that run on alternative fuels reminds me of a memorable scene from Casablanca. In the classic 1942 film, Capt. Louis Renault, the ethically malleable chief of the local gendarmes, loudly blows his police whistle and announces to an overflow crowd at Rick’s Café that he is closing the popular nightclub and casino.
When Rick, portrayed by Humphrey Bogart, demands to know why, Renault piously proclaims, “I’m shocked — SHOCKED! — to find that gambling is going on in here!”
At that moment a croupier hands a wad of cash to Renault and says, with perfect deadpan, “Your winnings, sir.”
Renault reflexively takes the cash and says to the croupier, “Oh, thank you very much.” Then, without missing a beat, he turns to the crowd and shouts as he waves his cash-filled hand, “Everybody out at once!”
That scene perfectly sums up the hypocrisy on parade in Baton Rouge these days as relates to Act 469 of 2009. The act grants income tax credits up to $3,000 for those who buy vehicles that burn “alternative fuels.” The act defines such fuels broadly, including “compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, biofuel, biodiesel, methanol, ethanol, and electricity.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal signed the measure into law … then everybody pretty much forgot about it.
The Eastern New Orleans Neighborhood Advisory Commission (ENONAC) is hosting a Spring Fling Brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, June 10, at Southern Oaks Plantation (7816 Hayne Blvd.; www.southernoaksplantation.com).
Only 100 reservations are available to the luncheon, which will raise funds for planning development and leadership training. The ENONAC endeavors to provide community leadership to ensure the area’s continued recovery and development.
Admission is $200 for two invitations. For more information, email ENONAC President Sylvia Scineaux-Richard: email@example.com or call her office at 504 218 5949.
Sources say the proposed "Hospitality Zone" bill appears dead for this year’s legislative session. That news comes after a Senate committee amended the proposed measure at the request of state Sen. Karen Carter-Peterson, D-New Orleans. Hospitality industry leaders reportedly cannot accept Peterson’s amendments, and they are said to be ready to pull the plug on the bill.
The amendments apparently caught the hospitality industry by surprise. Hotel and restaurant interests were the initial backers of the bill, but they ran into howls of protest from neighborhood residents in the French Quarter and Marigny. Residents of Marigny asked to be taken out of the “zone,” a special taxing district that would raise some $15 million a year, most of it in hotel taxes on tourists. The money was supposed to fund ongoing marketing efforts and be combined with $40 million up front in infrastructure improvements. The $40 million was to come from the Convention Center’s fund balance ($30 million) and from the city’s share of Community Development Block Grant funds ($10 million).
Ultimately, the disparate groups affected by the proposal — along with City Council members, legislators, Mayor Mitch Landrieu and the hospitality industry — failed to reach a consensus on how the tax revenues should be divided. Peterson’s amendment to the original bill took a significant portion of the marketing funds away from the private Convention and Visitors Bureau and the public Tourism Marketing Board and redirected it to other groups. That apparently caused the hospitality folks to back out, leaving the proposal, by state Sen. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, without its principal supporters.
It remains to be seen if the bill’s failure will lead to the Convention Center pulling back on its commitment to spend $30 million on infrastructure improvements.
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